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Lord Filkin: My Lords, I expressed sympathy with the noble Earl on this issue on a previous occasion. A kinder way of looking at the matter would be to say that the current volume of investment in parts of London is impressive. There does not appear to be a massive shortage of money for such schemes. The sensible answer would be that the works to which the noble Earl referred have an effect on traffic calming—they slow down cars that are approaching junctions and make it easier for pedestrians to cross at crossings. Pedestrians have a stronger sense that they, rather than the cars, have priority. Such efforts improve the quality of the environment. King's Road, for example, feels better compared with the situation some years ago, now that its pavements have been widened, its road lanes narrowed and the access roads have been closed off or had speed reductions put in. I do, however, take the noble Earl's point. This is a matter for the London boroughs rather than the Government or TfL. Discussions will no doubt take place in the usual places on these issues.

Noble Lords: Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Yes, my Lords, we are well over time now.

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School Playing Fields: Sales

2.47 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many school playing fields were sold off for development between 1st April 2000 and 31st March 2001; and what the percentage change was from 1999 to 2000.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, the information is not available in the format requested by the noble Lord because central records do not show if the land was sold for development. However, between lst April 2000 and 31st March 2001 the Government approved 37 applications to sell school playing fields that were larger than a sports pitch. That is a 9 per cent increase on the 34 applications approved in the previous year. All the applications met our strict criteria.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Why are there no accurate figures? The Government set up the Playing Fields Monitoring Group in April 2000 to report the figures accurately each month. Is she aware that pages 4 and 6 of the Labour Party's manifesto for 1997—the sports manifesto—gave a clear indication that playing fields would not be sold? However, figures I have show that last year 446 fields were approved for development and only 47 applications were refused. Further, is it true that so far this year 172 consents have been given and only six refused? Is it any surprise that the National Playing Fields Association and the Central Council of Physical Recreation are so concerned about the Government's lack of action?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord raises several points, which I shall attempt to answer in detail. I am well aware of the Labour Party's manifesto. Indeed, examining playing field sales falls within my portfolio. I want to put accurate figures on the record. Since October 1998, 95 applications involving the loss of school sports pitches have been determined. Two were rejected. Of the 93 applications that were approved, almost 40 per cent—36 of them—were at closed or closing schools. Therefore, 57 applications were approved at operating schools, 34 of them resulting in improved sports facilities, including new or replacement sports pitches, all-weather pitches and sports halls. Since July, the new advisory panel, which includes the National Playing Fields Association, has had responsibility for determining recommendations to Ministers on which of the proposals should be taken forward. I am delighted with the work that the panel has done so far.

Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if we lose school sports fields, we lose sports fields for the whole community? That means a lower level of activity generally, particularly when one considers that

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most social activity sports and participation sports need grass pitches. Can the noble Baroness say whether the Department of Health, for example, has been consulted to see what damage is being done to its preventive health scheme by this loss?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the criteria used to determine whether sports fields may be sold are, first, that the remaining playing fields must meet the school's needs, including the needs of other local schools; secondly, that the community of playing fields must be protected; and, thirdly, that any proceeds are used to improve school sports or education facilities. No application failing to meet those criteria can be allowed. We work extremely closely with the Department of Health on all these matters. Indeed, trilateral meetings take place on a regular basis between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills to discuss sport in general. Officials work closely on all those matters.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, can the Minister help the House by giving the statistics relating to the number of sales that were approved in, say, the past 20 years, especially in the 18 years from 1979 to 1997? Is it not hypocritical of Members opposite to complain about defects in the monitoring system when we know that, if they had their way, they would sell the lot?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's comments. Until 1998 there was no control over the sale of school playing fields and, therefore, statistics are incredibly difficult to ascertain. We have attempted to work out a guesstimate of what we believe to have been the case; it shows that probably approximately 30 to 40 playing fields a month were sold off. That compares to a current figure of approximately three a month. However, they are guesstimates, and I should not wish to be held responsible for those figures. We simply do not have the information.

One substantial change is that the proceeds from sales must be used for education and sports facilities. Only where we are completely satisfied that the money will be used in that way will such sales be agreed. Further, we ensure that the community at large and, in particular, the schools benefit by having additional facilities or, at least, facilities that do not take away sporting opportunities for young people and the community at large.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, can the Minister say whether any of the #750 million which the New Opportunities Fund was announced to be giving to sport or any of the additional #31 million of lottery money, as declared by Tessa Jowell in a Written Answer in June this year, has yet been spent on the creation or improvement of playing fields? Indeed, has

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any of that money been spent on protecting playing fields, used not only by schools but also by local communities, which are under threat?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, #580 million is available from the New Opportunities Fund for PE and sports programmes in England. As noble Lords may be aware, that money will be used to improve PE, sport and adventure. It will also contribute to integrated sport, education and health outcomes, which I consider to be an important part of the New Opportunities Fund spending programme. The allocation of the money has now been announced. I shall give only one or two examples of the allocation, but I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord with the full details as I am conscious of your Lordships' time. Eighty-nine million pounds will go to local education authorities in the North West; #81 million to London; and #61 million to the West Midlands. Those funds will be an added and very valuable resource in improving sports facilities throughout England. However, noble Lords are correct in assuming that we need to look at this matter in the context of additional facilities for communities, support for schools and, of course, the outcome in terms of sports activities and health.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, can the Minister say how many new playing fields were acquired for schools which lacked them and needed them during the year referred to in the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Monro?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not able to give that information to the right reverend Prelate simply because it would be available on a local education authority basis. However, I am happy to see what information I do have and I shall write to him.

Baroness David: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what is the Government's attitude, if already formulated, towards the launch today by the National Playing Fields Association of a document which states that all playing areas should have six acres as standard? Is that possible? I refer not only to schools but to parks and so on.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we have our own criteria on which we work very closely with schools to ensure that in the development of schools' playing facilities adequate space is made available for children at both primary and secondary level. I value very much the work of the National Playing Fields Association. I have not yet had the privilege of reading the document that was launched this morning; no doubt it will arrive on my desk during the course of the day. I am sure that I shall be able to welcome it and to say how much we value the contribution that the association makes to this debate and the work that it carries out directly with the department. That work is invaluable not least in looking at the role of schools in sport.

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